back to article Shhhhh! It's a Swiss Sunday shutdown. Kill the lawnmower, punish the kids with CHEESE

This week's edition of The eXpat Files takes us to Switzerland, where British expat Simon Murphy says you can run out of food – or beer – if you forget that the shops are all closed on Sundays. It's also forbidden to mow one's lawn on the Sabbath. Which sounds quite civilised. Simon also explains how to blend cold beer and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Skiing and BMXing

    What if I don't like skiing or BMXing?

    Yes yes, I am only jealous.


    Sunday shutdown...

    Not just in Switzerland. In rural France you may find you get a visit from the Gendarmes if you annoy neighbours by cutting grass; using chainsaw on a Sundy afternoon.

    And the shops are shut.

    - also like Switzerland - dry weekend if you don't remember to stock up on Saturday - many shops in rural areas also closed on a Monday..

    Sundays are very quiet - except for the hunters and farmers who seem to be able to fire up; cut; saw muck spread on Sundays. Must have a legal blanket exception.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Sunday shutdown...

      Germany as well (mowing on the Sabbath) - though I think it's a local ordnance rather than a national one. Always remember how laws work in Europe:

      In Britain, everything that is not prohibited by law is permitted.

      In Germany, everything that is not permitted by law is prohibited.

      In Russia, everything is prohibited, even if permitted by law.

      In France, everything is permitted, even if prohibited by law.

      In Switzerland, everything that is not prohibited by law is obligatory.

      1. russell 6

        Re: Sunday shutdown...

        They really do have laws, rules and regulations about pretty much everything in the Confederation Helvetica.You are not permitted to have a bonfire in your garden to burn garden waste, even if you live out in the sticks. You must wait for the green man at the road crossing even if it's the middle of the night and there is no traffic.

        On the other hand prostitution and brothels are legal. There are even special 3 month work permits for foreign 'ladies of the night' who want to ply their trade and yes they are taxed. Most try to find a rich sugar daddy during that time so they can stay, quite a few do too.

      2. joed

        Re: Sunday shutdown...

        oh yeah, Germany. Not only using US credit card is borderline impossible (outside hotel and without going for serious hustle) but even when you'll eventually get out on Sunday to find a currency exchange you'll find that everything is closed (great sightseeing though). You'll get fit in 2 weeks (if you'll bet on better exchange rates outside entry airport and have limited time to find a place later;). At least the rental car was diesel so I managed all errands on one tank (started hypermiling a week in once I realized that the last thing I wanted was to test my visa/luck on the way back). pushing the car to Frankfurt was not an option;)

        1. big_D Silver badge

          @joed Re: Sunday shutdown...

          Not just US credit card, any credit cards. Only hotels, gas stations and restaurants generally accept credit cards (a few luxury shops as well, like Chanel). Most other places don't accept credit cards. It is slowly changing, but very slowly.

          Most electrical stores (equivalents of Best Buy etc.) don't accept cards, supermarkets don't accept cards.

          I think this comes back down to the German attitude to credit. Before the current generation, buying on credit was pretty much the equivalent to having leprosy. You bought your house with a mortgage, but that was generally the only debt you had. This is changing and has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, but credit cards are still trying to catch up.

          My partner came from an average family and basically, if you couldn't afford something, you did without it, until you had saved up for it. That was also how I grew up in England, if my parents couldn't afford something, they would save up for it, then buy it. I have also always lived that way - the only exception being my first car, which I bought on credit, because I needed to get to work, but I haven't had a loan for over 2 decades and have never not paid my credit card off by the end of the month.

          Also, until recently, all credit cards were directly linked to your bank account and were automatically paid off in full at the end of the month, so unless you were travelling abroad, there was no real benefit from having a credit card. So people generally use their debit card, because it is easier to keep track of your bank balance if you only use one card.

    2. Smitty Werbenjaegermanjensen

      Re: Sunday shutdown...

      I once tried to drive from Kloten to Rapperswil-Jona on a Sunday. Even the road was closed. Not for roadworks or an accident, but because it was always closed on a Sunday and it seems a lot of "forest roads" are.

      As I drove down said road (Wallisellerstrasse), two policemen leaped out from behind a tree, brandishing day-glo orange table tennis bats (or similar) waving them at me madly. As they were also armed with M-16s (or similar) I felt obliged to take them seriously. When they inquired if I had seen the signs (in German) and I responded that I had not, they seemed genuinely surprised to learn that forest roads weren't shut on a Sunday in my homeland.

      Once at Rapperswil-Jona, we also found that the Swiss seem required to undertake an official Hobby at an official designated Hobby Place. Woe betide anyone undertaking their Remote Control Boat Hobby in the Fishing Hobby area...

      That aside, I found Switzerland to be a lovely place inhabited by kind, respectful, good-natured people. Would buy again.

      1. squigbobble

        Re: Sunday shutdown...

        "armed with M-16s (or similar)"

        It'll be a SiG 550, Switzerland's home-grown assault rifle.

      2. batfastad

        Re: Sunday shutdown...

        @ Smitty Werbenjaegermanjensen

        "Would buy again." Made me lol!

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Sunday shutdown...

      Germany as well. No shopping on a Sunday, most towns offer Sunday shopping 2 or three times a year, usually in the run up to Christmas.

      The same as rural France, no loud noise on a Sunday, so no working with power tools in the garden etc. If you are renovating your house and making the noise inside the house, a blind eye is usually turned, as long as you respect the Mittagsruhe (12:00 to 14:00).

      Most shops close at around 5 on a Saturday, especially rurally, but supermarkets are usually open until 8. But that is recent, when I first moved over here, most shops closed at 14:00 on a Saturday. The law changed about a decade ago, to allow them to open longer.

  3. russell 6

    I lived in Lugano in the Italian speaking region of Switzerland for 10 years and can relate to Simon. But after a while you feel like Switzerland is sucking the life out of you and it is time to change. The conformity got to me in the end.

    What is cheaper in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe is electronics. TVs and camera's etc This is a link to a price comparison site of physical shops, not just online businesses (in English)

    They will also ship abroad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lugano is great!

      We live just on the Italian side of the border from Lugano, the slightly chaotic life in Italy is beautifully balanced by being able to shop in the Confederation. Petrol is cheaper in Lugano by around 20 cents/litre, visits to the doctor are 50 Francs compared to 75 Euros, Swiss baby-milk powder & baby-food is half-price compared to the Italian equivalent. iDevices attract a CH VAT rate around 8% - compared to 22% in Italy, that's around a EUR128 saving on the 'top' iPhone. Swiss Migros has all the things that Italian supermarkets don't have, Asian food, useable washing-up liquid, Cherimoya fruit etc.

      I'd previously worked in Geneva for a long while, and agree that "not flushing the toilet after 10pm" and "No washing the car on Sundays" & similar 'conformity' rules eventually pushed me away.

      I still delight to annoy the Swiss by driving 'everywhere' in 2nd gear, at 40 km/h, in cities - as they have an *extreme* radar/safety-camera/money-making-idea of 'random' speed traps (including fake motorway roadworks) that aren't random as they are published in the TCS (Touring Club Suisse=AA) newsletter *in-advance* every month so that the locals aren't actually affected! The fines range from steep, for being slightly over the speed-limit to ten-percent-of-your-annual-salary+week-in-jail-whilst-they-work-out-your-salary for being 24mph above their limit!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've been visiting Switzerland on a monthly basis for the last 8 years and will agree with pretty much everything. This article has me looking forward to the next trip in 2 weeks. I can only dream of working there.

    My additions.

    You feel safe in Switzerland. There is less aggression in the air and Crime is low. You'll notice motorcycle shops for example, leave their bikes on display outside the shop through the night, something not doable in any part of the UK ever.


    Swiss hotels are the cleanest and warmest in the world.

    Toilets. Park, mountain, rest stop, shopping center toilets are spotless and warm. Something totally alien to the UK.

    Food. Pretty much a different league to the UK. I love the way chefs often show their faces behind the bar or come out for a chat with the customers. Usually smiling, with an air of pride.

    New Buildings. Stylish sophisticated, modern looking. Makes everywhere in the UK look like social housing or one big ugly Ghetto.

    Apartment blocks all seem to have underground parking, plentiful storage and useful spaces around.It's totally laughable when UK developers describe their projects as "luxury" "stunning" and yet wouldn't dream of installing conveniences the Swiss take for granted.

    Old buildings, old towns, churches and cathedrals are plentiful are stunning. A pleasure to be in, meticulously maintained and respected, no tacky tourism in your face or inflated prices for being there.

    Roads. Smooth, quiet surfaces. In very good order. Meticulous up-keep in the winter.

    Driving. Very laid back on motorways. Unlike the UK, the majority travel at a consistent speed with good lane discipline.

    Bad points, they still use speed trap cameras in towns, as opposed to speed' slow down' warnings appearing parts of western Europe.

    Built-up and residential areas have very low speed limits, giving a safer feeling when out with kids or letting kids play on their own.

    "Nothing is cheaper, everything is more expensive, often eye-wateringly so."

    Generally true.

    Apple computers are considerably cheaper though, but you'll have to pay duty if caught by customs.

    "EVERYTHING is shut on a Sunday,

    for the kids' football every pitch here has a buffet bar with drinks (including beer and wine) and snacks and shelter, unlike the facility-free icy mudbaths of a Cumbrian match."

    This is pretty much as per Holland, Belgium, France and Germany. Sunday closing brings families together. Taking kids to football is a pleasure and an occasion for all the family.

    "In the summer, the lake is warm enough to swim in."

    But still icy cold!

    "And what can't you do? You can't cut the grass or make other noise on a Sunday"

    Sadly, for a peace loving country, Switzerland is plagued by noisy pipes on boy racer's cars. I've noticed a considerable increase over the years. Sunday morning lay-ins til 10-30 11am are becoming a thing of the past. The Swiss love their cars, which seems to be why this is tolerated.

    1. Wensleydale Cheese

      "EVERYTHING is shut on a Sunday,"

      That was true until a three or four years ago where I am but a limited number of shops are now open from 11 to 5 on Sundays.

      The major difference came over a decade ago with later opening during the week. Extending opening hours to 7pm on weekdays made a huge difference, and Saturday shopping no longer involved huge queues. That's now 8pm for the major supermarkets so it's really quite relaxed. There are also places open until 11pm but they don't stock stuff at budget prices.

  5. Tim Worstal

    The old joke

    Switzerland's such a nice place because it's the only country that anyone has ever bothered to finish building.

    1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

      ... and nobody knocked it all down part way though.....

      neutrality, gotta love it.

  6. petur
    Thumb Up

    way to go!

    I'm very fond of these rules and laws, because we seem to have become a very self-centred society where nobody cares about the rest if they can get their things done.

    So if my neighbour starts drilling and hammering in the middle of the night, or mowing the lawn on that sunny and quiet Sunday afternoon, I can tell him to stop or face uniforms.

    I also believe that shops can close on Sunday. The old 'no time during the week' makes no sense because the 'I need to work until 6' was how they managed to get shops to stay open late. Either open late or on Sunday, both is just for spoiled morons...

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: way to go!

      My neighbour mentioned my lawn mowing on one Sunday, I reminded him that it was the only day for several weeks when I was not at work and the grass was dry enough to cut. I asked him, as he is retired, if he would like to mow my grass for me on one of the 6 other days of the week when he enjoys a quiet garden. He didn't mention it again.

  7. Andrew Peake

    I spent a very happy 6 months in Zug would have stayed longer if the protect hasn't moved me to the next country. This was 14 years ago. Back then everything send to be London prices but the quality was outstanding when it came to for and drink

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Geneva is not very Swiss

    There are so many expats in Geneva that it really doesn't feel very Swiss. As mentioned you don't even need to speak French... Compared to places like Berne, Saint Gall or Crans Montana, Geneva is far more similar to France than it is to Switzerland.

    Would like to know which world class skiing resorts are within an hour of Geneva, I know the region very well and can only presume that you mean "French" stations like Avoriaz or Chamonix. There is some excellent skiing in Switzerland but it is much further away.

    Something that has to be mentioned though is Geneva's night life, there is almost none. After 7 the town kinda shuts down. Yes, there are two or three bars next to the train station, Les Brasseurs etc but you soon get bored of them. There are some great restaurants but to be honest they are expensive.

    I have always been under the impression that Lausanne is more dynamic, especially for the under 40s.

    If you really want to get to "feel" Switzerland head of down into the cantons of Valais, Interlaken or Lucern.

  9. stu 4


    Though superficially a nice place, I've always found it a bit 'creepy'.

    You can almost feel the foundations of dead jew's bones that make up the cities' wealth.

    It is a country that exists only through preying on the rest of the EU/World - never giving, always taking.

    It's never somewhere I could comfortably live - I'd feel immoral.

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Re: creepy

      Hey, it's one of the few countries around here who has never tried to conquer the world or its neighbours! Your many oppressed ex-colonies say hello!

      1. stu 4


        Oh, absolutely no doubt about it.

        Unfortunately it's also one of the few countries to EVER not offer help to any country (or its fleeing citizens) being 'conquered'….

        Taking a gamble at your nationality as US.. I'd hardly call taxing things a bit highly as oppression… many would make the case that the British empire (being founded fundamentally on trade rather than conquest for gold/etc (i.e. spain) ) did far far more good for its colonies than bad on the whole…. frankly if mad george had seen sense with international trade the way we eventually worked out a few years later the chances are we'd still own your arse.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ratfox

          "Unfortunately it's also one of the few countries to EVER not offer help to any country (or its fleeing citizens) being 'conquered'…."

          Facts ( I think I mentioned)

          Interesting then that it has more refugees per head of population than UK. It has twice the number of refugees per head than UK

          Sweden: 82,629 – 8.81 per 1,000 population

          Switzerland: 48,813 – 6.37 per 1,000 population

          Germany: 594,269 – 7.22 per 1,000 population

          France: 200,687 – 3.20 per 1,000 population

          Canada: 165,549 – 4.87 per 1,000 population

          United Kingdom: 238,150 – 3.84 per 1,000 population

          United States: 264,574 – 0.85 per 1,000 population

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: @ratfox

          "Unfortunately it's also one of the few countries to EVER not offer help to any country (or its fleeing citizens) being 'conquered'…."

          Have you never watched The Sound of Music?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: creepy

      "It is a country that exists only through preying on the rest of the EU/World - never giving, always taking."

      What on earth are you going on about ? Facts would be nice.

      "You can almost feel the foundations of dead jew's bones that make up the cities' wealth."

      - that must be why the mountain resorts have lots of Orthodox Jewish families there in the summer.

      1. stu 4


        I refuse to believe anyone is so fuckwitted. have a think and get back to me.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @AC

          Nice reasoned argument

        2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          @stu 4

          You had a bad day, didn't you?

          That would explain where your unsubstantiated rant came from...

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: creepy

        @russell 6

        "It is interesting that as a 'neutral' country one of it's major exports is weapons. "

        That's about ~200 million CHF out of exports of ~400 Billion CHF. Major ?

        Well if you count 15th by value in the world at 2% of Russia's exports, 3% of USA. Heck even Netherlands exports more.

    4. Uffish

      Re: creepy

      I'm sure the bankers are creepy. I've only dealt with industry types and the tourist trade, they are a good bunch, but I wouldn't like to live there permanently, they are just too rule based.

  10. JohnMcL

    I worked in Zurich for almost 5 years. Switzerland is a very comfortable and very organised country. The creation of Switzerland, from separate regions/valleys, took diplomacy and compromise. Even now the country has four official languages, with English pressing at the door to be a fifth. Everyone seems to understand that they have a social obligation for the smooth running of the place. In exchange they get the opportunity to vote in referendums every three months because the parliament does what the people want, not like in other countries where it's the other way around. I'd go back there tomorrow if there was a job in my area of specialisation.

  11. Florida1920 Silver badge

    Speaking of language

    Business language is usually English or American

    Pretty much like the States, then. :)

    One with the British-American phrase book in the pocket.

    1. Wensleydale Cheese

      Re: Speaking of language

      "Business language is usually English or American"

      In the multinationals yes, but learning the local language makes your life outside work much easier and opens up opportunities for work in smaller places.

  12. harmjschoonhoven

    A matter of language

    Switzerland is not a homogeneous country. Comparing The French speaking part of the Rhone valley west of Leuk with the German speaking part east of Leuk you will soon notice that in the western part the ladies are more elegantly dressed and in the eastern part the houses are better painted.

  13. PJI


    I've been here, with a two year break, since 1996. I've even become a Swiss citizen. I've lived in Basel, Bern, Zuerich and Brugg. I visit Geneva and Fribourg (both French speaking while the others speak a form of German) a lot and sometimes Tessin (Italian speaking).

    1st, Geneva and the places along the lake are lovely. Geneva has got a great social scene. You just need, as everywhere, to know some people. Going with a family will, of course, change your perspective. Oh, watch out for pickpockets though - they tend to nip over the border, do their deeds and off again, otherwise I find Geneva great fun and great atmosphere.

    2nd. Swiss kantons and cities vary enormously from one another, even suburbs. The old cliches about opening hours are not true and were never universally true. In the week most shops are open much later than in Britain, or later than British shops outside the really big cities used to be (smaller British towns are still closed), often open until 8 or 9 in the evening for at least one day a week as well as most of Saturday. What's more, every village has still got a shop, a restaurant and usually more than one. Railway stations have got branches of the main supermarkets, usually open 7 days a week. As for drink: as well as being relatively cheap for the quality and even absolutely, it is available 7 days a week at most hours of the day (16 year olds love it as beer is legal for them). Restaurants, even in small places, will serve food till 10 or even 11 o'clock - my forays to large UK towns result in much hunger as after 9 seems to be difficult and some pubs serving food in, for instance, Liverpool, will not serve food after 6 as it gets in the way of their drinkers. Zuerich claims to have the most outdoor tables in Europe and a recent report said it had the highest density of night clubs.

    3rd. Funnily enough, the Swiss view the Brits as hidebound makers and followers of rules and customs. I tend to agree. Yes, there are rules here. But they tend to be sensible and vary with the Gemeinde (sort of parish or commune) and are changeable if you can raise enough support for a local referendum. I am always struck by how tolerant people here are, as foreigners swamp them with various versions of English, loudness, bad behaviour. I am struck that despite foreigners making up to 40% in some areas and being visible in almost every village, there is no real equivalent, for sheer nastiness and ignorance semi-officially accepted, of UKIP or the BNP nor their supporters. I don't mean the sort of neo-nazi fringe present in most of Europe now, including GB. It is striking how many foreigners refuse to learn German or Swiss German even after years here. We've just refused the kind of immigration cap that UKIP would adore.

    4th. Prices: well, I notice that food in GB is good, on the whole and the people outside London are delightful. But I also notice that a proper dinner in a restaurant, despite the far lower wages, is not that much cheaper or is even more expensive (for decent quality) than here. VAT is 8% (used to be 6%, but I think it reached 8 now). So most electrical/computing hardware is comparable or cheaper here. You can always nip over the border to France or Germany for more bargain hunting. Fashion clothes, perfumes etc. are similar or cheaper here. Transport is cheaper, petrol is much cheaper. Taxes are lower. Salaries are higher (a low salary is around CHF60000 or about £40000. Rents are high in the cities - Geneva and Zuerich have a bad name for that as there is a real shortage of accommodation.

    As for medical costs: varies with the area and the insurer. The obligatory minimum for an adult costs between CHF200 and 300. Half private for me, as a crusty near pensioner, with one of the more expensive insurers (but I value the service) is CHF520. So if a bloke in his 40s is paying that, he better look at his contract and change his insurer.

    Finally: activities - as said, plus an excellent cycling network e.g. around Lac Leman, sailing - some of these lakes are very, very big; all the usual and some unusual water sports. Oh, the water gets up to 26 degrees in the Summer, so a bit warmer than anything North of the Channel. The Jura is a wonderful range of hills running from Geneva to Zurich in and out of France and Switzerland and, really, rather more interesting than much of the Alps, great for walking, climbing, cycling, riding …. Then there are the hundreds, probably thousands of wine festivals, beer festivals and so on. Boored? From Geneva Annecy is within a half a day's cycling (done it). From Basel there is Elsace, the Black Forest and from Zurich the glories of South Germany, Austria. Italy is just a short train journey or car drive away.

    Cinemas usually show English language films in English and others with subtitles. Music, opera etc. are good and there seems to be an insane number of rock, jazz, folk festivals, including big ones at Nyon for our Genevan friends. Zurich has just about the largest Love parade in Europe.

    Yes, I know a good stereotype is hard to ignore. But really, ignore it. I venture to say most expats stay and, if they do leave, come back. It's not perfect; but it is rather good.

    My experience covers large parts of the rest of the world, not just here.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cheaper food ? Shop in France

    You can quickly get to French supermarkets that are open later by crossing the border ... not on Sundays, though.

    As for making noise in France on a Sunday, well, actually, after 20+ years, nobody has ever complained. Unlike Germany, where you get really big shit for making noise on Sundays - not at all comparable. I guess the Swiss are like Germans in that respect.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sunday Shutdown does appeal

    Not for any religious reasons, but in the age of the 24 hour supermarket, and online shopping, you'd have to be pretty disorganised not to get your shopping done in the week.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The bread-dipped-in-melted-cheese is called fondue.

    Raclette is melted-cheese-on-potatoes.

    1. Chemist

      "Raclette is melted-cheese-on-potatoes."

      With pickled gurkins & silverskin onions

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